'I figured this movie would be a good starting point to show girls that even when life gets hard, you have to keep going.'
On Dec. 15, 2016, 13-year-old space enthusiast Taylor Richardson had the experience of a lifetime.
She saw a special screening of "Hidden Figures" at the White House alongside the cast of the movie, first lady Michelle Obama, and several NASA astronauts.
Not only was the biopic about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan — three women who were the unsung heroes behind the first successful NASA missions into space — inspiring to Richardson on many levels, what hit home most for her was what Michelle Obama said about everything they were up against.
"These women couldn’t even drink from the same water fountain or use the same bathroom as many of their colleagues … and folks didn’t always take these women seriously because they were black and also because they were women," Obama explained that night.
The experience made Richardson want to do whatever she could to show girls that their STEM skills are not only welcome, but finally being celebrated.
"I've been to four space centers, and not once were these women and their contributions that impacted our space program mentioned," writes Richardson in an email.
She decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to offer 100 girls the chance to see "Hidden Figures" for free in the theater.
"I figured this movie would be a good starting point to show girls that even when life gets hard, you have to keep going," Richardson explains.
She included in her budget goal enough money for each girl to get a snack and a copy of the book on which the movie was based.
Literacy is very important to Richardson, who regularly collects gently used STEM books and donates them to schools and children in need. "I've donated over 3,000 books and read to over 250 kids in Jacksonville about STEM and space," Richardson says.
In just 18 days, she exceeded her goal of $2,600 five times over. That extra money will go toward more screenings for girls who could use some STEM inspiration right now.
Despite women's growing in STEM work and space exploration these days, there is still a major disparity of women of color in these fields. No doubt the lack of representation in the history books and, until recently, on screen has something to do with that.
While Richardson's idea to provide free movie screenings may seem small, her commitment to changing the game for women of color in STEM is not.
She's far from alone in seeing what the impact a movie like "Hidden Figures" can have on the next generation of girls.
There's a reason "Hidden Figures" has remained #1 at the box office for two weeks straight, beating out blockbusters like "Rogue One." Representation matters — for girls dreaming of being astronauts, women of color who have trouble finding role models, and anyone else who feels left out of history.
Hopefully, thanks to movies like "Hidden Figures," more and more girls will realize there is a place for them in STEM fields.
Richardson, whose goal is to be the first person to walk on Mars, offers some sound advice for girls on the fundraising page: "It's important that girls not only look at the stars but take the steps to reach for them."